Revising Before Contract

I did a post a few weeks ago that dealt with the types of rejection a writer usually receives from an agent or an editor. At least, these are the types of rejections I send. Now I want to talk a bit about the last type, the Revision Rejection.

This is as close as you can get to having an agent offer representation. This is basically an agent saying “I will give you revision notes and work with you like I would a client, but I have a few reservations and don’t want to officially offer you representation yet.”

On the one hand, this is great. A Real, Live Publishing Professional believes in you. On the other hand, it can also be tricky. I always consider everything very carefully when I offer a Revision Rejection because there are a lot of things at stake. The writer could take my notes to heart, do a revision, send it back to me and it still wouldn’t be strong enough. That puts both me and the writer in a nasty situation. I feel bad and the writer gets their hopes up.

I try not to offer too many Revision Rejections because, if I care enough about a project and love it enough to spend all this time thinking about it, I will usually offer representation and revise after contract with a writer. A Revision Rejection is if I do have some pretty substantial issues with the manuscript — a character, a plot point, a voice issue — but really think it could have great potential. The big thing I’m trying to figure out when I give this kind of rejection is whether or not an author can revise. Some authors will be great at revision, I can tell. Others, well, they get the Revision Rejection because I need to know for sure how well they tackle a revision before I sign them.

However, I want to give writers everywhere a complete picture of this tricky issue. If you’re faced with a revision rejection from me or any agent, it’s not something you have to listen to. I’d suggest waiting until you get some similar feedback before ripping your manuscript apart. If, however, my revision notes hit home and really resonate with you, you can revise and you’ll come out of the situation with a better book, even if the revision doesn’t end up being strong enough for me to represent.

Always use caution when revising for someone without a contract. It’s your book and your vision. Don’t let any one person’s reaction or notes pressure you into changing your project too drastically unless you agree with them. Just because I’m a Real, Live Publishing Professional, it doesn’t mean I know your book better than you do. I know my taste, I know the publishing marketplace, I know editors, but you’re the expert on your own work.

So a Revision Rejection is really good news, it means you’re a breath away from even better news, but you always have to take it with a grain of salt.

20 Replies to “Revising Before Contract”

  1. Wow, this was really helpful. I think my manuscript needs more revision, but I’ve been over it a thousand (thousand) times and am taking a break from it. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m a tough editor on myself.)
    But this really help put things into perspective. Revision suggestions from an agent would be fantastic. If I got rejected afterward, yes it would be disappointing, but knowing my project is “almost there” and having some professional suggestions on how to push it in the right direction could be exactly what I need.
    Thanks!

  2. Before I signed with my agent, he spent 20 minutes (or 20 hours…it’s a blur…) telling me what was wrong with my book. I agreed. At the end, he said something like, “Well, I think you’re 2 strong revisions away from BOOK TITLE being ready.” I said, “So you want me to revise and send it back?” He said, “Oh, no, I want to sign you as a client!”

    Now, almost finished with the first revision, I can tell how many problems the draft I queried with had. It might sound weird, but his willingness to sign me as a client even after he explained his concerns with the book, was a HUGE selling point when I decided to become his client. To me, it said he 1.) saw something in my writing, in my story. 2.) was willing to work on it with me to make it better.

    That was more than enough for me to sign.

  3. Good points.

    A writer also has nothing to lose by making the revisions and seeing how it turns out. I keep dated daily backups of my drafts. No problem to copy the most recent and try things. Even if it didn’t work out, some possiblities would have been explored, and if it were me, I would feel I had an even better grip on my story. Besides, it would be good practice in revising to the suggestions of knowledgeable people.

  4. Thanks for another great post! I get my updates via email, so I don’t comment as much as I should, but I absolutely love this blog. Even though my WIP wasn’t polished enough to enter the query contest, I still learned a lot from reading the entries and comments. Keep it up!

  5. From a writer’s point of view I don’t think anything can be lost by a revision regection. It forces you to really look at things from a reader’s perspective. Sometimes it’s amazing how a few outside comments can really make things “click”.

  6. Yes good post. Now, when you say some writers would be good at revisions and you can tell… do you mean you can tell this just from the contact you’ve had up to that point? Or are you speaking of writers you’ve met at conferences who you’ve been able to gauge better?

    On revising and it still not being match made in heaven, so no offer? Hmm… honestly, that experience is worth something. Maybe let yourself feel bummed for a night, then realize such agent interaction is a huge advantage and will only help them in the future? lol.

  7. You have such a nice, kind way of explaining this situation. Revision rejection is good… it means your work has potential, and the potential to be even better. That really says something.

    – Julie

  8. Bryan — That’s great. Your new agent is a good man, and thorough. (Bonus point to anyone who got the Lebowski reference!) I always ask for revision on every manuscript I take on. Not just for the hell of it, either. Every story can benefit a bit from outside input. It also gets them used to being edited. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Haylee — How do I know if a writer will revise well? It’s not a sure science but that sense I get usually has to do with how polished the manuscript is when it comes in. I can usually tell when something has been revised and tightened to high heaven before it’s submitted. Those are the writers who have, in my estimation, gone through revision on their own a lot, and will have the tools and willpower to go through more. They understand the importance of it and they’re not afraid of it. Make sense?

  9. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I got a revision rejection from one of my top agent choices a few weeks ago, the same day I was offered a revision letter from a real, live editor. I took both as great signs and have been dreaming revisions ever since. Great post–puts things in perspective and makes me optimistic. Thank you!

  10. Really appreciate these posts and your comments on Beta Six were invaluable – am rampantly revising as we speak. Thanks for all the useful advice on this blog ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I received a few revision rejections a long while back, when I was still a newbie writer. Of course, being a newbie, the revisions weren’t what the agents wanted, and they passed.

    But, if revision rejections are as close to a yes as you say they are, would it be worth querying those agents again, now that I’ve spent several more years on the project and my writing?

    If so, do I mention their revision rejection in the new query letter?

    Thanks so much, Mary.

  12. On the basis of the five chapters I sent to 2 Indian publishers, I received revision request. Both publishers want different things revised. Their feedback on the five chapters is contradicting each other. That’s why I have put the MS aside. Revisions without a contract can be dicey. Your post sub-consciously helped me make up my mind on how to go about it, as I know my story better than anyone else.

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